Shopping on Glendale Avenue

You really only meant to buy a box of moist towelettes and a can of string cheese on your way home from work the other day, but things got a little crazy. You were driving up Glendale Avenue looking for a convenience store when you spotted La Fama Bakery, thought, Ooh, empanadas!, and pulled in real quick.

Certainly, there’ll be a CVS or a Walgreens, you thought to yourself once you were back behind the wheel and licking frosting from a pan dulce. You didn’t see a grocery, but there was a Value Village, which got you to wondering how long it’d been since you’d gone thrifting, and that’s all it took — you were inside and pawing through a bin of vintage Melmac before you knew it. Plastic dishware was better with serving pieces, but they didn’t have any styrene serving platters. That orange corduroy bean bag chair was a steal, though, so it was worth the trip.

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Dig It Gardens has an all-around good vibe. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and the lush plant offerings have something for everyone at all price points. Load up on potting soil geared specifically for desert cacti, snag some beautiful clay pots, or grab that aloe plant that you always wanted. Even if you're not there to buy anything or aren't interested in gardening, its labyrinth-like outdoor nursery is ideal for a stroll among a variety of thriving cacti and other plants. But be careful: At least one of Dig It's staffers will unapologetically endorse blowing an unreasonable portion of your income on plants and gardening supplies.

People have vastly different relationships to plants, a fact that isn't lost on Bosque at Pueblo founder Michael Lanier and his partner Coby Bruckner. Their Grand Avenue plant shop is a haven for both plant pros and the plant-curious. You can discover plants you've never seen before, meet other people who share your affinity for nature, and learn the fascinating histories of plant life at the Bosque. The shop carries tiny plants and massive ones, and has all the information and inspiration you need to help give them a good home. It's also filled with gift items, from macrame plant holders to vintage-style botanical illustrations. By coupling an eclectic inventory of plants and plant-related items with a contagious curiosity about plant life, Lanier and Bruckner have created the city's best place to match houseplants with new homes.

Changing Hands, which has long leaned into the idea of bookstore as community gathering space, takes that concept to the next level. The Phoenix location is home to a bar where you can enjoy drinks and a nosh while you read, and you'll find works by local artists on its walls. There's also a room set up with tables where people gather for casual conversations or attend book-signings and poetry readings. The store has a robust lineup of online events for readers with diverse interests, and often reflects the big conversations happening in contemporary culture through its choices of books and happenings. Both locations have charming children's sections, a great selection of magazines you won't find elsewhere, and a wide assortment of gifts that make it fun to just kick around and explore instead of simply popping in for that one book on your must-have list. Here, you encounter a bookstore that feels like home; it's a place you want to return to again and again to experience new and familiar treasures.

In last year's Best of Phoenix issue, we pondered which outlet could fill the void after the iconic All About Books and Comics closed after some 40 years. As it turns out, the best contender, Glendale's Drawn To Comics, has more than stepped up to the challenge. Part of its success was because, as COVID restrictions hampered the obsessive box-digging preferred by hardcore readers, DTC found ways to maintain a safe, socially distant shopping experience, promoting community and connection at a time when people needed it most. And DTC continued to do the work of any great shop: cater to comics fans of all ages, carry a massive catalog of back titles, share picks and recommendations, and generally hype folks to embrace comics. Because of those efforts, comics fans across the Valley still have a place to gather and celebrate these beloved stories and larger-than-life heroes. A Herculean effort? Nope, this was the work of 100 versions of Superman.

Charissa Lucille is a true literary badass. As creator and operator of Wasted Ink Zine Distro, they (Charissa's preferred pronoun) celebrate the most indie form of publishing: the humble zine, a DIY approach to publishing open to anyone with pen, paper, and access to a copy machine. Wasted Ink sells zines online and in its wonderful new location at Nurture House, and it also offers workshops and advice to anyone who shares a passion for zines. Spend some time in the shop (online or in person) and you'll get a taste for the variety and amazingness of the offerings. We're so glad that the Phoenix Zine Fest — spearheaded by Lucille and Wasted Ink, but felled by the pandemic — will be back (albeit in a virtual format) later this fall.

Imperial Outpost

Getting into trading card or tabletop games isn't easy; with 1,000 different titles available, it's often a terrifying prospect for beginners. That's why the Valley is lucky to have a place like Imperial Outpost. The shop covers all your gaming needs, from miniature games and non-collectibles to board games galore. Plus, there's no reason to ever go home to play your favorite game, as the shop has several gaming rooms, a snack bar, and even a painting room. That last bit speaks to what makes the shop truly stand out: inclusivity. Because even if you don't know what game to buy, the shop fosters excitement regardless of your intent or skill level. You can wander around from different displays, watching others play or browsing boxes, and readily find your next obsessive-level hobby. In that way, Imperial Outpost feels like a genuine haven, and one that makes the Valley seem all that more playful and enjoyable for its mere existence.

Move over Hallmark: Hazel & Violet is in the house. After slogging your way through all those sappy cards in grocery stores and gift shops, it's so refreshing to stumble upon the cards created by Nancy Hill in her letterpress shop inside the historic Bragg's Pie Factory. For starters, they're printed on her impressive collection of letterpress machines, which means they have that wonderful type and texture that's lacking from generic greeting cards. More importantly, they reflect one of Hill's best qualities: her wicked sense of humor. Of course, you can find cards that are sweet at Hazel & Violet, where the presses are often running things like wedding invitations. But you can also find cards with bite. Several of Hill's cards feature words and images that reflect the local scene, from cactus decor to Midcentury Modern architecture. And you can even make your own cards during one of her letterpress workshops, which adds a whole new layer of creativity to the act of giving greeting cards.

Arrowhead Towne Center

It's been a tough couple of years for Phoenix mall culture — Metrocenter shuttered in summer 2020, followed by Paradise Valley Mall in spring 2021. But there are still a number of large-scale shopping centers still thriving, and our favorite is Arrowhead Towne Center in northwest Phoenix. It's big and filled with stores we want (and can actually afford) to shop at, like H&M and Lululemon. Arrowhead has a few tenants that aren't at other malls, too, like pop-culture shop Box Lunch and mattress mecca Tuft & Needle. Dining options abound, like Chompie's, Fired Pie, and Little Tokyo. All told, if we want to experience the simple, rapidly disappearing joy of a day at the mall, Arrowhead Towne Center is our destination of choice.

Phoenix Art Museum

The Museum Store at Phoenix Art Museum has an incredible selection of items related to its most popular exhibits — far beyond basic stuff like catalogs and postcards. It also carries more general objects with an arts focus, including many inspired by some of the world's best-loved artists and masterpieces. You can pick up scarves, toys, kitchen wares, office gizmos, jewelry, ties, posters, puzzles, books, and home decor. They've got options in a wide range of prices, from simple pens to fancy furniture. It's a perfect place to shop for a baby shower, an office party, or an anniversary gift. The store even has a section featuring works by local artists, where you can buy ceramics, jewelry, and other fun finds. If you can't find a gift for someone here, you should probably just bake them cookies or something.

Fantasia Crystals doesn't beat you over the head with New Age beliefs. Instead, the store cultivates an environment where visitors feel safe questioning and exploring a wide range of worldviews. The staff is friendly and attentive, and skilled at helping people find just what they're looking for, even if they walk in not knowing exactly what that might be. The store carries a large selection of items, including crystals, tarot cards, candles, sculptures, jewelry, and more. One entire room is packed with books, including many that are hard to find in other places. Fantasia Crystals also has a useful lineup of classes, whether you want to learn to make jewelry or discover the basic tenets and practices of paganism. Positive energy and acceptance abound here, giving people a unique place to shop as well as fresh ways to think about the world.

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